Nutshell: A surprisingly decent Ferengi vehicle, and with an amiable subplot.
Well, it's the first one in a very long time, but "Body Parts" is a Ferengi episode that actually works. I guess it's a good indication that the season is going well when the writers can come up with a passable vehicle for Quark.
I'll admit it—I thought we were in really big trouble when I saw the lackluster and unfunny teaser where Quark reveals to Rom that he's been diagnosed with a terminal illness (the deadpan "I did this and that and, oh yeah, I'm dying" was just plain dumb and utterly predictable). Nor were my spirits raised with the absolutely typical reactions both Rom and Quark were making in the early acts concerning Quark's condition (Rom being seriously overstated and dreadfully overacted, and Quark being predictably stubborn). And then when Brunt (that obnoxious FCA guy played by Jeffrey Combs) showed up again, I was almost ready to shut down my brain for another Ferengi outing to go crashing-and-burning down along with the likes of "Family Business," "Prophet Motive," and "Bar Association."
But then a funny thing happened: The show came together and worked on its terms—even with its basic plot that can be summed up in one sentence. That sentence goes something like this: Quark is tricked into believing he has a terminal illness by Brunt, who buys Quark's remains in advance and then reveals to Quark that he's not going to die, forcing him to choose whether to kill himself to satisfy the contract's terms or to break the contract and live the rest of his life as a pathetic Ferengi outcast. The motivation for Brunt's actions aren't really important (he thinks Quark is a—gasp—philanthropist, and wants him destroyed, which strikes me as rather contrived motivation). What's important here is a decent character study for Quark—one of the few times the series actually uses the character in a semi-serious way.
The key words are "decent" and "semi-serious." While the show is an overall success, it isn't really anything approaching compelling or dramatic. And there is a lot of comic relief here—some of it's dumb, and some of it's effective. In any case it's enough to see that the show doesn't take itself all that seriously—which is fine for a comedy episode, but still worth mentioning in terms of comparing this installment to more serious shows.
Again, I found Brunt's presence and the Ferengi culture he represents less than interesting—I still think that analyzing a transparently greed-laden society is more often annoying and obvious than it is funny. Scenes like the one where Brunt is aghast when he learns Quark gives his workers—gasp again—vacation time seem as if they want to be funny based solely on the backward values Ferengi place on doing business at the expense of the individual. But enough already—the joke has been done so many times on DS9, and it was never that great a joke in the first place.
What I did find interesting in "Body Parts," however, was discovering that the show actually matters. Unlike most Ferengi shows, this one seems to have quite an impact on Quark, and a lasting impact at that. Usually, Quark is just a Ferengi caricature, spouting Rules of Acquisition and being greedy just because the guidelines the writers have set down for the Ferengi as a culture demands it. But this time, the writers address Quark's difference from the rest of Ferenginar. The twist here is the question: What if, despite how greedy and conniving Quark seems to humans, he is actually too generous and overly concerned with the well-being of his workers in the eyes of other Ferengi? And because of this difference he has to prove otherwise by killing himself—or live only as a disgrace to his people?
Despite all the comic mayhem the premise is milked for, this is not a lightweight issue. This requires some hard choices for Quark—and, for once, some tough consequences as well. Watching Quark go through his hardship is handled surprisingly well. While I may not like selfish Ferengi customs, it's quite clear that Quark, as a practicing Ferengi businessman, does. He wants to be successful and liked by his peers, but Brunt is determined to see to it otherwise.
So Quark considers killing himself so he can die with Ferengi businessman dignity—or, rather, in one of the season's best turns of comic inspiration, hiring Garak to do it for him (to which, for a rather brief and intriguing moment, Garak smiles ominously). This leads to two of the funniest scenes the series has done in months. First is the scene where Garak practices killing Quark in a holosuite simulation. (Garak: "How was that?" Quark: "No! Snapping vertebrae is out!") Second is the scene where Quark walks precariously into his darkened quarters expecting a surprise assassination. (This was great physical comedy that didn't wander too far into the realm of slapstick, and I was laughing hard.)
But when Quark has a bizarre dream involving Gint, the first Grand Nagus (who looks strikingly similar to his brother Rom), he realizes his life is not worth Brunt's price. This leads Quark to his decision to defy Brunt, accepting the stiff penalties that come with it—including complete loss of assets, exile from Ferenginar, and being forever forbidden to deal business with other Ferengi.
I particularly liked the show's ending. For once, there was no easy fix to the problem. Quark is faced with being completely ruined—period. He sits alone in his empty bar, which has been completely stripped of everything, furniture and all. The only assets he has are his friends—Sisko, Odo, Dax, Bashir, even Morn—who, to help him reopen his bar, donate furniture and supplies out of their own generosity. The final shot is a very reassuring turn of characterization. For once, Quark is actually speechless with gratitude, as if he understands generosity for the first time in his life. Reading into this, I'm hoping this will somewhat change his character's outlook. Being exiled from Ferenginar may cause him to be even more drawn into Federation values; and from now on, maybe he'll think twice before taking advantage of the people around him. That's the payoff of "Body Parts"—one I find quite respectable. Most Ferengi episodes don't even have a payoff, and it's nice to finally see one with some story and substance.
"Body Parts" also has a B-story in which pregnant Keiko O'Brien is injured in a Runabout mishap. As a result, Bashir is forced to perform an emergency medical procedure to save her baby. He has to move the baby to the only other womb available at the time of the accident: Major Kira. Bajoran anatomy complications dictates that Kira must carry the child to term.
I thought this worked quite well. Obviously, the only reason this part of the story even exists is because of Nana Visitor's pregnancy. But, implausibilities aside, I think the writers did the best they possibly could have under the circumstances. The characterizations are surprisingly absorbing, and handled well. There are possibilities here, too. Look for Kira to be viewing life in new ways, and experiencing a very intimate bond with the O'Briens. At the end of the show, Kira agrees to move in with the O'Briens, which makes for a rather fascinating family unit. And I thought the "Aunt Nerys" bit was, well, cute. I hope we see more of this, because it made for great character padding.
Bottom line: While the plot of "Body Parts" isn't the greatest and it takes a while to get going, it ultimately delivers on the character plane. Thumbs up.
Note: After viewing this episode, it came to my attention that many of the DS9 characters are outcasts among their own people. Quark has now been exiled, Worf stands alone against the Klingon empire, Odo is ostracized among Changelings for killing one of his own, Garak is exiled from Cardassia, Dukat is a rogue fighter flying around in a Klingon ship, and even Dax almost made a choice that would have resulted in her banishment from Trill. Most interesting. Perhaps the series is trying to say something about individuality and standing up for one's beliefs.